Years ago, Adam Silvera gave himself the goal of becoming a published writer before he turned 25. He made it, but just barely. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not (Soho Teen), was initially scheduled for fall 2015 publication. Even after its release was bumped up to mid-June, the new date fell just after his 25th birthday. “Having a book published whenever is a huge honor,” says the New York City author, though he admitted to feeling a little disappointed when he realized he would miss his goal by such a slim margin. However, another date change—in order to ensure that copies were available when Silvera participated in this year’s iteration of the Openly YA book tour, which celebrates gay characters in YA literature—brought the novel into the world on June 2, just in time. “I had a very underwhelming 25th birthday,” he says. “How do you follow up launching a career?”

The conceit for More Happy Than Not, about a Bronx teenager who is considering using a memory-wiping procedure to erase his knowledge that he is gay, came from Silvera’s reflections on the misconception that sexuality is a choice. “Sexuality is very fluid, but I never chose to be gay,” he says. “I started thinking that if sex could be a choice, and if someone gay was presented with the opportunity to be straight, would he do that?” Silvera’s upbringing in the Bronx informs the story, including protagonist Aaron Soto’s fears about coming out, but, according to the author, “Aaron’s story is way harsher than mine was.”

Though More Happy Than Not is Silvera’s first book, he’s no stranger to writing and publishing. He was actively involved in writing online fan fiction when he was younger, including stories set in the worlds of Harry Potter, Charmed, and Supernatural (“Some of it is still up there under a username I will never reveal”), and he has held jobs throughout the industry, starting at Barnes & Noble. He initially worked there as a barista but soon moved into the children’s department after his managers “constantly saw me selling children’s books from the cafe.” Subsequently, Silvera has worked as a bookseller at Books of Wonder (which hosted the release party for More Happy Than Not), interned with Figment, reviewed YA books for Shelf Awareness, and worked with Paper Lantern Lit. “I tell people that without going to college, I created my own M.F.A. in creative writing through these jobs,” he says.

Silvera hadn’t started writing More Happy Than Not when he met agent Brooks Sherman while celebrating a friend’s book release. Sherman’s positive response to the novel’s hook made him realize he needed to get to work. After writing a draft of the book during a summer in Texas, Silvera signed with Sherman (then at FinePrint Literary Management, now with the Bent Agency) in August 2013, and they sold the book to Daniel Ehrenhaft at Soho Teen a month later. The novel has since received four starred reviews, and Silvera has been busy with events for the book throughout this past month. He is currently working on his next two YA novels, the first of which, History Is All You Left Me, is slated to be published by Soho Teen in fall 2016.

As the novel’s title and premise suggest, it isn’t a happy book, exactly, but neither is it hopeless. “Especially with grief and heartbreak, you can go through these things and think, I will never be whole again,” Silvera says. “Being more happy than not helps you get up every day. You start to laugh again, and you realize that the world didn’t stop spinning.” While he knows that happiness doesn’t come easily, gratitude—for the book’s reception and for the people who helped shape it—isn’t a problem. “Everything I’ve wanted for this novel has happened. I’ve gotten more than I should’ve reasonably been dreaming about.”

To see all six of this season’s Flying Starts authors and illustrators, click here.